Everything You Need to Know About Going to a Military BallUpdated: March 15, 2023
At least once a year, each military branch hosts a formal military ball that spouses and significant others can attend. Events and formalities vary by branch, but all have similar expectations.
Below we break down what to wear to the military ball, the typical flow of events, expectations and general advice.
What to Wear to a Military Ball
Service members wear their dress blues or class A uniforms, while guests wear formal attire. Male guests typically wear dark suits or a tuxedo, while women often wear full-length gowns or cocktail dresses. Dresses often match the service member’s dress blues, which means you’ll see a lot of red dresses at Marine balls and gold at Army balls.
While full-length dresses are preferred, expect to see everything from dresses with lengthy trains to clubwear. Remember that these are work events, and you represent your significant other as much as yourself.
The community has similar thoughts. “Lean toward the modest side of the spectrum,” said Torry Rinchen, a military spouse. “Otherwise, your significant other may not hear the end of it.”
Pre-Dinner Military Ball Procession
A military ball typically has a formal and informal part. At the beginning of the evening, there’s normally a reception and social hour. Alcohol is present, and drinking is OK, but be mindful not to overdo it.
You’ll have an opportunity to find your table around this time. There may be assigned seating, so be conscious of any nametags if present. After finding your table, the receiving line is typically next. Before going to the receiving line, leave food, drinks and accessories at your table.
In the receiving line, walk in front of your service member single-file. You’ll give your name to the announcer, who will greet and thank you for coming. Short greetings are appropriate in the receiving line, such as “good evening” or “it’s nice to meet you.” Following the receiving line, you’ll return to your table.
Dinner and Beyond
Most military balls have a program, which is handy at this point in the evening. There will be presentations to honor service members and tributes to the colors, so be sure to ask your service member about proper protocol.
Dinner itself often comes with several courses or is a buffet, so don’t feel the need to shovel in everything you see. Be prepared for many toasts. Water is perfectly acceptable to use for the toast. Remember that toasting with an empty glass is frowned upon, but odds are no one would notice.
After the dinner and presentation, the dance floor opens. At this point, many start to either socialize or leave. It’s not uncommon to see soldiers and significant others drinking heavily at these events. As mentioned above, you are an extension of your service member and should attempt to carry yourself appropriately.
“There’s not a good civilian equivalent to a military ball.” The best I can think of is a wedding reception,” said U.S. Army spouse Jane Hernandez. “You want to be respectful but also are free to have a great time.”